Karoly Nyisztor

Do you need help figuring out which methodology is best for your team?

This blog post will discuss Kanban vs Scrum and help you decide which one is best for you. But first, let’s talk about the reasons you might want to use Agile methodologies in the first place.

The problem with the traditional way of developing software

In the traditional way of developing software, you have a defined beginning and end, with specific steps that must be followed in order to produce the desired result. The process is sequential, and it starts with collecting the requirements, followed by a design phase where developers architect the software. With the design in place, you start building the system itself and finally test and deploy the product once everything has been put together.

This type of methodology is often called the waterfall model, and it has been used for many years. This approach works fine when you have a well-defined project with no changes along the way.

But what happens when you need to change something or add a new feature while in production?

The sequential process means that if you need to make a change, you have to go all the way back to the beginning, and this can be very costly in terms of both time and money.

Agile — the response to the shortcomings of waterfall development

Agile was born to address an increasing need for software that could be adapted to changing customer demands. The agile methodology is an iterative process, which means that you can make changes along the way without having to go back to the beginning.

There are a number of different agile frameworks, but the two most common are Kanban and Scrum. 

Agile is an iterative and incremental methodology that allows for more flexibility and responsiveness to change. The cornerstones of agile development are iterative and incremental delivery, customer collaboration, and responding to change.

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I’ll illustrate the difference between traditional software development and the agile approach through an example. 

Let’s say you want to travel somewhere. The train will get you to where you want to go, but it’s hard to change course. Trains have fixed routes and schedules that make changes difficult. Severe weather conditions, obstacles on the tracks, and other unforeseen events can affect your travel.

However, if you travel by car, you can easily change course if something unexpected happens. 

A traditional organization is like a train: the tracks are laid, everything is planned in advance, and you follow these tracks precisely to get to your destination—that is, to finish the project. However, this model is not prepared to respond to change.

Agile organizations are more like a car: You can easily adjust your travel plans and routes whenever necessary. Changing circumstances also affect software projects: even when a project has been approved, the original goals or the underlying technology might change. The chance of this happening increases sharply with the complexity of the software project. That’s because complexity translates to unclear requirements and longer development times.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to Kanban and Scrum.

Kanban Image WorkFlow

The Kanban system

Kanban is a visual management system that helps you optimize your workflows. It was created by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota Motor Corporation, as a system to improve productivity in the automotive industry. 

The main idea behind Kanban is that it aligns inventory levels with actual consumption. The need for a new part is signaled to the supplier only when the inventory falls below a certain level. 

Kanban uses cards to track production within the factory. The cards are moved along a board — the term kanban means billboard or signboard — according to specific rules, which dictate when and how many parts should be produced. The kanban card is ultimately a message from the consumer to the supplier to produce more of a given item. Thus, consumption drives production.

Kanban is also a pull-based system instead of the push-based system of the traditional assembly line. This approach eliminates the waste of overproduction and reduces the amount of inventory needed, which in turn frees up storage space and reduces costs.

Kanban can be applied to software development to optimize the flow of work.

The kanban board visualizes the workflow and tracks the progress of each task. A straightforward board setup contains columns with tasks that are pending, in progress, to be verified, and done. Tasks move between these columns based on predefined rules, which might vary depending on the type of work being done. You can clearly see what needs to be done and by whom. You can use kanban software or physical kanban boards — for example, a whiteboard with sticky notes will do the trick.

Kanban doesn’t define roles or responsibilities. And there are no predefined release cycles or due dates. The delivery of work is based on the team’s ability to pull tasks from the kanban board and complete them.

Also, changes can happen at any time. The team is constantly adapting to changes in the market and customer demands, and the kanban board is updated to reflect these changes.

Kanban avoids the risk of having too much work “in progress” and not being able to deliver meaningful results by placing limits on the number of tasks that can be in progress at any given time. This is called the WIP (work in progress) limit. Setting a WIP limit helps to ensure that tasks are completed on time and prevents user stories from piling up.

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The Scrum framework

Scrum is a framework for agile software development that provides a set of rules and procedures for managing product development.

What is Scrum? The term Scrum was first introduced by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in 1995. It’s a more prescriptive approach than Kanban, with specific roles, artifacts, and ceremonies.

What is project management like when it comes to Scrum? Scrum has three primary roles: the Product Owner, the Development Team Member, and the Scrum Master, for which you can get a scrum master certification.

The Product Owner acts as a middleman between the customer and the team. The Product Owner gains a clear picture of product requirements and writes them down in the Product Backlog.

The Development Team Member is responsible for building the product. They have all the skills needed to build a working product, including analysis and design.

The Scrum Master helps the team apply Scrum and follow its processes. The Scrum Master makes sure that the team has all it needs to be as productive as possible.

In Scrum, teams work in short bursts called sprints. A sprint lasts for a fixed amount of time, usually two or four weeks. Each sprint starts with a planning meeting. Once the goals are clear, the team commits to the deliverables, estimates the hours required for each task, and then gets to work. The goals should not change during the sprint.

At the end of each sprint, the team presents their work to stakeholders in a demo meeting called sprint review meeting. The product is considered “done” when all the sprint tasks are completed, approved by the stakeholders, and documented.

Sprints are followed by a short retrospective meeting where the team discusses what went well and how to improve in future sprints.

Then, the process starts over again until the project completes.

Kanban vs. Scrum: which one works for you?

To address the debate of Kanban vs. Scrum, let’s compare them side-by-side to see how these two methodologies handle agile development.

Kanban is a lightweight methodology that relies on kanban boards to visualize the workflow and track the progress of tasks. It doesn’t have any roles or responsibilities prescribed, and there are no predefined release cycles or due dates.

On the other hand, Scrum is a more prescriptive approach that has specific roles, artifacts, and ceremonies. The team works in short bursts called sprints with a fixed amount of time.

A Kanban team is constantly adapting to changes in the market and customer demands, regardless of their priority and size. Tasks get pulled to be worked on when enough information is available for them to begin.

In contrast, Scrum teams are committed to a certain number of features during each sprint. They have defined goals and can’t change their mind halfway through the sprint. New requirements can be added to the product backlog, but they need to be decided on and estimated during future sprints.

To sum up: Kanban is a more flexible approach, while Scrum is more prescriptive.

If you need a lot of structure and defined roles, Scrum might be a better fit for you. If you’re more comfortable with change and you don’t want or need the structure of Scrum, Kanban is the way to go.

Pro tip: Even if you choose Scrum, Kanban boards and Kanban Teams can be a great way to visualize your workflow and track the progress of tasks.

Page Last Updated: February 2022